I've mentioned before how much I value the Office Watch website / newsletter. It is basically sympathetic to the Big Two products from Microsoft, Windows and Office, but it takes an informed and completely no-BS approach toward the good and bad aspects of them.

Therefore I was cheered to read the latest dispatch, under the headline "Vista Service Pack 1 is looking good." For those who haven't been through the drill before, the "Service Pack" is the omnibus set of bug-fixes and improvements that Microsoft puts out six to twelve months after major new releases of its software. The standing joke is that Service Pack 1 (SP1) should be considered the "real" release, everything before that being an extended beta-test period that users have to pay to participate in. Often there's a SP2 as well. Zillions of PC worldwide are running happily right now under Windows XP / SP2.

Since buying a ThinkPad T60 factory-installed with the first release of Vista early this year, I've been unhappily triple-tracking my own computing life. I have a Mac iBook, which I need to connect with the Atlantic's head-office server; the Vista ThinkPad T60, which I've kept running as a test bed; and a kind of heirloom ThinkPad T41, on which I installed Vista but then "downgraded" to XP/SP2, and which is both more reliable and faster than the Vista machine. On this one I do much of my actual work.

Last month, as a Thanksgiving gift, Microsoft (and later Lenovo) engineers explained how I could keep the new system from gobbling up every bit of the 105-GB storage on my TP60's hard disk. I was thankful for that! What it didn't change was the slowness and unreliability of Vista on this machine. I always have to allow between three and six minutes for the machine to become usable after I start it up or bring it out of "hibernation." It takes about as long to shut it down. At least twice a week, sometimes more, I have a "blue screen of death" system crash under Vista, which happens maybe once a month on the XP machine. One occurred just minutes ago, while I was on a Skype call on the Vista machine.

But that's in the past! Office Watch says help is at hand, in the form of SP1:

While installing Vista SP1 isn't always easy, the final result is worth the trouble. In our test Vista SP1 is noticeably more stable than the version previously foisted on the public. [Note: "foisted" is the mot juste here, and it demonstrates Office Watch's spirit.] Take with a grain of salt the talk of performance improvements in Vista SP1, especially regarding file copying and network transfers. The 'boost' is really fixing Vista bugs and putting Vista on the same performance level as Windows XP. .... When Vista SP1 is released to the public in 2008, we're inclined to recommend getting it. Though we know that most people are wisely staying with Windows XP for the moment, Vista Service Pack 1 might tip the balance in favor of Vista for new computers.

According to Office Watch, anyone "brave enough" can prowl around the Microsoft web site and find the beta version of Vista SP1. (More tips on finding it here.) Having put in my time as an involuntary beta tester of Vista, I am not going to do that and am instead going to wait until the real SP1 is released early next year. But for those of you who can't wait to open presents, be my guests...

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